No, America Does NOT Need More Scientists and Engineers

By Guest Blogger | June 13, 2012 12:44 pm


Derek Lowe is a medicinal chemist who has worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, osteoporosis, and other diseases. He has been writing about drug discovery at In the Pipeline, where this post originally appeared, for more than ten years.

Slate recently published one of those assume-the-conclusions articles up on science and technology education in the U.S. It’s right there in the title: “America Needs More Scientists and Engineers.”

Now, I can generally agree that America (and the world) needs more science and engineering. I’d personally like to have researchers who could realize room-temperature superconductors, a commercially feasible way to turn carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into industrial products, and both economically viable fusion power and high-efficiency solar power beamed down from orbit—for starters. We most definitely need better technology and more scientific understanding to develop these things, since none of them (as far as we know) are at all impossible, and we sure don’t have any of them yet.

But to automatically assume that we need lots more scientists and engineers to do that is a tempting, but illogical, conclusion. And it’s one that my currently unemployed readers who are scientists and engineers probably don’t enjoy hearing about very much. I think that the initial fallacies are (1) lumping together all science education into a common substance, and (2) assuming that if you just put more of that into the hopper, more good stuff will come out the other end.

If I had to pick one line from the article that I disagree with the most, it would be this one:

America needs Thomas Edisons and Craig Venters, but it really needs a lot more good scientists, more competent scientists, even more mediocre scientists.

No. I hate to be the one to say it, but mediocre scientists are, in fact, in long supply. Access to them is not a rate-limiting step. (That’s the chemist’s way of saying it’s not the main bottleneck.) Not all the unemployed science and technology folks out there are mediocre—not by a long shot (I’ve seen the CVs that come in)—but a lot of the mediocre ones are finding themselves unemployed, and they’re searching an awful long time for new positions when that happens. Who, exactly, would be clamoring to hire a fresh horde of I-guess-they’ll-do science graduates? Is that what we really need to put things over the top, technologically—more foot soldiers?

But I agree with the first part of the quoted statement, although different names might have come to my mind. My emphasis would be on “How do we get the smartest and most motivated people to go into science again?” Or perhaps “How do we educate future discoverers to live up to their potential?” I want to make sure that we don’t miss the next John von Neumann or Claude Shannon, or that they don’t decide to go off to the hedge fund business instead. I want to be able to find the great people who come out of obscurity, the Barbara McClintocks and Francis Cricks, and give them the chance to do what they’re capable of. When someone seems to be born for a particular field, like the Nobel-winning R. B. Woodward seemed to be for synthetic organic chemistry, I want them to have every chance to find their calling.

But even below that household-name level, there’s a larger group of very intelligent, very inventive people who are mostly only known to those in their field. I have a list in my head right now for chemistry; so do you for the fields that you know best. These people we cannot have enough of, either—these are the ones who might be only a chance encounter or sudden thought away from a line of research that would lead to an uncontested Nobel Prize or billion-dollar industrial breakthrough.

To be fair, Slate may well get around to some of these thoughts; they’re going to be writing about science education all month. But I wish that they hadn’t gotten off on this particular foot. You’ve got to guard yourself against myths in this area. Here come a few of these myths, which feed the erroneous idea that we need more scientists and engineers:

1. Companies, in most cases, are not moving R&D operations overseas because they just can’t find anyone here to do the jobs. They’re doing that for the same reason so many other employers have sent jobs abroad: because it’s cheaper that way (or appears to be; the jury’s probably still out in many instances)—people in many other countries simply do their jobs for less money. And it’s often the ordinary grunt work that’s being outsourced, which makes the “we even need mediocre scientists” line especially wrong-headed.

2. We are not, as far as I can see, facing the constant and well-known “critical shortage of scientists and engineers.” There have been headlines with that phrase in them for decades, and I wish people would think about that before writing another one. Some fields may have shortages (and these vary over time), but that’s a different story entirely.

3. And that brings up another point, as mentioned above: while the earlier stages of science and math education are a common pathway, things then branch out, and how. Saying that there are so-many-thousand “science PhDs” is a pretty useless statistic, because by that point, they’re scattered into all sorts of fields. A semiconductor firm will not be hiring me, for example.

To sum up: our problems are not caused by a shortage of scientists and engineers, and they will not be fixed by cranking out a lot more mediocre ones. It’s harder than that—isn’t it always?

Heads image via Shutterstock 

  • Travis

    I completely agree. Can I look forward to a post about HOW to make better scientists and recruit the right talent?

  • Frank

    Amen! As an engineer, I concur completely with your sentiment. Someone that can be a GREAT engineer or scientist has the skill set to be a GREAT investment banker, but can make a lot more money.

    To me – the solution is simple (though how you implement it is hard). What drives people to accept low paying jobs like policemen, firemen, or high paying jobs like lawyers and bankers? It is about status. Status can be conferred in so many ways – through public admiration (policemen, firemen) or by money (lawyers and bankers). You have to raise the status of science in our society.

    Politicians have done a great job lowering the status of scientists and engineers (see the anti-vaccination movement, for example), while wage pressure from multiple sources have kept salaries more depressed versus almost all other professions. For example, if a new college grad in engineering made $100K, you would have no trouble finding tons of bright people flocking to the profession.

    Because of the problem of status and pay – when I hear the government and companies talking about “inspiring” people into science and engineering – the skeptical part of me hears society wanting more talent in science and engineering, but without having to pay for it.

  • Greg Fish

    Funny enough, we also don’t have jobs for all the scientists we have now, so wouldn’t encouraging new ones to spend eight years in school and a small mortgage on tuition payments end up very badly?

  • Brian Smith

    I agree and disagree. While we may not need more “scientists and engineers”, we need ALOT more technically trained people. You can’t outsource your plumbing or wiring emergency, or your A/C breaking down in the middle of the night.

    What we really don’t need any more of are French Art Historians, PhD programs in Urban Renewal, or Parks and Rec Majors. We especially don’t need any more of that favorite of college athletes, athletic management majors.

  • Hayo

    The problem of the US according to the OECD PISA study is that more than 48% of highschool students do basically not understand science. In Finland (the best Western country in the comparison), this is just 17%. Funnily, Finnland also achieves 4 times more students in the top grade, so working on reducing the laggards does not reduce, but dramatically increases the “elite” and the potential number of students for studying science. The Finns say that many really bad students became suddenly very good with their new method.

    I have just published two articles in Science & Education on this US-Finland comparison for those who are interested (21/4 and online 25/04/12). This defines the problem very clearly and also shows an empirical solution. Science is not a goal in itself, but a method to understand the world we live in. This is a need of everybody. If we fail in this, it has a lot of dangerous consequences, also and especially on our understanding of democracy and how to live in a technologically sophisticated society.

  • Ian Durham

    What the world needs is not necessarily what the market demands. I think we DO need more scientists and engineers, but NOT mediocre ones. Present employment trends are NOT indicative of what we need, but simply an indication of what the market is presently demanding. But the market is not always the best judge of what the world actually needs.

    For example (and I hate to cite this as an example since I have personal ties to them), Fisher-Price toys is a major employer of engineers and (believe it or not) physicists. I’m not really sure the world absolutely *needs* more Little People or Dora The Explorer plastic toys. But imagine if we put those people to work solving serious world problems?

    Here’s another example. Lyme disease is a very serious problem in the Northeastern US (among other areas) and is growing worse with increasing tick populations due to warming temperatures. Several drug companies have said that a vaccine could be developed fairly easily (in fact, one was developed but wasn’t effective and the project was dropped), but it’s not lucrative enough, i.e. the market isn’t demanding it. Just imagine what humanity could accomplish if we shifted our priorities a bit.

    So, I DO think we need more scientists and engineers, but I think we ALSO need a change in priorities. As Chris Hedges says, “[w]e’ve bought into the idea that education is about training and “success”, defined monetarily, rather than learning to think critically and to challenge.” The world needs the latter, not the former. Do not conflate the two.

  • becca

    Seriously? You want to hold up Woodward as someone born to do science? That’s a GREAT way to ensure no one with any intelligence would WANT to go into science.

  • A.

    Certainly agree. However, it’s a deeper hole. First, one should take a look at the statistics of how many of the graduate students in the US are actually American. American education does not favor the development of critical thinking and will to become a scientist, period. Second, even universities do not value research any more. Look at Rick Perry’s disgrace for Texas science (yes it exists!), for example – “universities are for teaching” and boom, no more research assistantships, and years-old labs thrown into oblivion with more administrators than scientists+students. Finally, look at the example of countries like Brazil and what happens when a funding agency bases all it’s decisions on things like impact factors and treats PhD graduations as market points. Science becomes bloated with absurd papers published just to get points. PhD’s get unemployed because private universities won’t pay a PhD salary when all you need is a M.Sc. to teach. It’s not how many scientists and engineers a country forms but what it does with them – STEM graduates cannot be evaluated the same way as groceries, the private sector MUST hire too, and administrators have a really hard time understanding that. Hell, even impact factor people have a hard time understanding that.

  • Kaviani

    Nonpolitical funding is a major issue, too. Too often, corporate R&D amounts to disproving rival claims and cherry picking data to satisfy corporate policy. This leads to brilliance and innovation being stifled and vaulted in the name of proprietary rights.

    There’s also the issue of parasitic science, but I’m still buzzing from Prometheus, so I’ll let it be.

  • RogerTheGeek

    We don’t need any more mediocre college graduates in any field.

  • bill carlson

    To give you an idea of the fantastic shortage of scientists and theoretical physicists we have – I scored an 800 on the math SAT and got two Masters Degrees – one of them a Master of Engineering degree from an Ivy League school. I have no arrest record – never been in trouble with the law – never got into any addictions other than coffee and chocolate. I am now living at the homeless shelter in America’s poorest city. So you see, if you pursue science, there is a great future out there awaiting you. GO FOR IT, MAN !!!

  • Cpt. Capitalism

    Agreed to a certain point, but the labor market shows the true reality – that engineers and STEM degrees are in more demand than sociology or any other “study” that avoids math and rigor at all costs. It may not be the Dotcom boom where a recent graduate can make $60,000 out of college, but starting salaries still show there is more demand for science-based graduates than…well…anything else.

  • Ulmer

    1. We do not need more mediocre scientists. Amazingly, I have seen biochemical research become robotic. 100 mid-level scientists could not compete with one robot which fills 1200 nano liter samples in a minute. In fact, it would be physically impossible at that scale.

    2. Why does every high school student in America need to know about quarternary proteins, protein synthesis, peptide bonds, or amino groups? This is what was asked on he international science tests. I know medical doctors and scientists who couldn’t explain these things. They vaguely remember learning it, but don’t use this information .

    3. We need to re-evaluate what every student should know. It is not as obvious as it once was. National HS level biology emphasizes cells, macromolecules, genetics, evolution and ecology… But students are no longer taught about the diversity of life; bacteria, fungi, animals, plants.., anatomy

  • Jared Beekman

    Fix our primary education system.

    Let those who want to destroy their lives do so, and let those who wish to excel have the chance. Prison guards, law enforcement, and emergency medicine specialists need the job security anyway.

    Force every student through 4 years of Math and Science. Teach them technology and what can be done with this, more or less, abstract education into the basics of Science. Make the teachers demonstrate knowledge of the area they are teaching!

  • RJD

    Nothing like getting a social theory from a Chemist. Obviously the author subscribes exclusively to the “great man” theory of science. A common but highly dubious mythos holds that science proceeds only by the work of outstanding individuals. It is sort of like saying that Bill Gates stranded on Mars would recreate Microsoft and become fabulously wealthy all over again. Hardly, by himself Bill Gates would simply lead a lonely life fading into oblivion.

    Does anyone think von Neumann never stole an idea from a grad student or relied on others to complete something he began? That he did not need feed back or validation? That human knowledge is not ultimately shared social knowledge? If von Neumann sat cloistered in a literal ivory tower, would a word of what he said have mattered? Human effort is social effort and it takes many non-elite to pull off any activity of note. Even outstanding artistic performances require enormous infrastructure. It is easy to mistake the influence of paradigm shifters for the power of the paradigms themselves, but they are not even close in importance. It is ideas shared by many, not a few creators noteworthy though they may be, which matter.

    The production of “great men” is highly unpredictable and by definition most people cannot be exceptional. It is absurd to ask for the majority to be “above average”, actually it is a arithmetic and logical contradiction so beginning with that premise it is easy to prove anything. The better question to ask is how to get the most out of what is available. And then what we see is a massive failure of the management class which has surrounded itself with unearned privileges while denigrating those who must actually produce as “mediocre”. Ratcheting down pay, status and influence of the technical elite to server the financial elite is the game pulling down this country.

  • SomeAnonymousGeek

    I also graduated with a MS in engineering from an Ivy League school. It amazed me, almost all my job offers were with hedge funds. I took the one job I found in R&D. Now, one year after graduation, we are facing the distinct possibility of our department being eliminated. I’m not homeless yet, but it’s an incredible amount of effort to NOT become a mediocre engineer trapped in a mediocre job.

    I take solace in the fact that it isn’t just me. Neil Renninger is watching his company move in to cosmetics research, HP is a shell of its former self, Bell labs are no more. There is little creativity left in science and engineering outside of the Maker/Hackerspace movements.

    In today’s world, you’re much better off making money off the brownian motion of the Black–Scholes model than trying to pursue anything real.

  • Paul S.

    The USA doesn’t need more scientists and engineers doing simple work for companies where highly skilled and very smart doesn’t matter. Or doing these studies or work on some totally useless and obvious project.

    What it does need is more working on “important” projects. The problem is getting many of the very smart people to go into a field where pay is so much less, along with education costs being so high.

    I feel like getting people together early on to work on interesting and important projects might help keep more in the field due to what they will be doing rather than just for the pay. The internet could play a key role in this in the future for both funding through small or large donations. Finding projects people want to fund, and getting the people together so the problems would be able to be solved.

  • Julius Mazzarella

    I completely disagree with the authors statement that we do not need more scientists and engineers. Certainly, the Von Neumann’s, Einstein’s, Tesla’s, Maxwell, Faraday, the list is endless …they were first scientists and then the great discoveries came. You may need to create a million average scientists before getting the right one that hits the jackpot for humanity but if you don’t produce that big number first you will end up empty handed. Sort of like saying you need to probably create a billion or so people before you get one Einstein. If you don’t creat the billion you may not end up with an Einstein or two. It’s just that is you get that right person into the science field then humanity may have a small chance of survival and improving quality of life for the rest of us.

  • Tom

    I’ll agree heartily with this article.

    From an early age, I had a passion for electronics. As I started my college education, this passion only increased. Twenty years later, I’ve met some of my former classmates, those that were not nearly as passionate, but certainly made good grades. Of the five with which I’ve recently been in contact, only one has stayed in the field of Electrical Engineering. One moved quickly to accounting, two others had short careers in engineering before moving to marketing. The last one now owns a restaurant franchise, having become discouraged with the technical field all together.

    I would encourage identification of students who are more likely to leave a technical field before they leave school. I would encourage educators, schools and their faculty to find the students who have that passion for the subject and to feed that passion.

    I feel that it was a tremendous waste of educational resources to spend the time educating those four people in engineering when they have not used this expertise in their careers. I feel that there were students lost in the system, overshadowed by the huge numbers of students in the system, that never finished the degree. That even years later still have a passion for science, but won’t every use it productively because it was stifled early on.

  • Student

    Finally! I’m a Cancer Biologist working on my PhD and none of my peers are able to find jobs. People that have great publication records, communicate clearly, network, etc. There is just nothing out there for us…short of a Xenopus postdoc or working at Starbucks. Thank you for bringing this to people’s attention! It we stopped PhD production in biology for the next two years, there would still be an oversupply due to all of those getting stuck as a postdoc or being imported from other countries. Though the problem isn’t yet being solved, I am glad to see someone actually realizing a problem does exist.

  • Vince

    Julius Mazzarella, your comment is unfortunately flawed.

    ‘Producing genius’, such as a von Neumann, isn’t coupled to the production of PhDs. Individuals who possess such extraordinary talents exist independent of specific pathways in higher-education, see Freeman Dyson, Ramanujan or countless individuals who have ended up in quantitative finance. Having more mediocre PhD’s just means the same or greater unemployment with more sunken cost.

    [genius] As a function of the total population would be correct though as in this case you’d also grow the extreme tail of the distribution. It’s the ‘Boltzmann solution’ – inefficiently pump up the whole canonical ensemble so you can pick-up a few extra on the wing.

    Derek’s argument is an elegant, and in my opinion, correct one. Which is that the more optimal strategy is to use the information we have to improve the filter or heuristic by which we can identify, select and foster those who are already on that extreme tail and guide them to high-impact positions. That’s where the bang-for-your-buck lies.

  • BWA

    The difference between a great scientist and a mediocre one is often the environment they grew up in, i.e.: the education system.

    Why are we totally wasting questionable teaching talent on creationism and debating this topic instead of funding/teaching great science programs? Why do we have teachers teaching subjects they should be sitting in a classroom learning (and not teaching)? Where has technology expertise gone in the USA and Canada!?

    I see a huge gap between even an average science education and mediocre, let alone mediocre and inspired! If we can’t even provide a basic science understanding by the time someone graduates the public school system, we sure as heck are not going to get a chance to create great scientists and Engineers!!

  • Laurel

    Scientists and engineers need a place to work and there are fewer and fewer worthy employment opportunities for them. As American companies have shifted factory work overseas, they are now exporting their research work. Where will the new scientists and engineers work?

  • Laurel Simon

    We do not need more engineers, or better engineers. We need R & D Money. All the really great engineering brains are sitting at desks, begging for money to enable them make great discoveries. The Corporate world has shutdown the funds and has decided to aquire their new discoveries through aquisition instead of creating it internally. Large numbers of extremely brillant scientists can not invent or create without R&D money, but the price of the CEO and Board of Directors’ stock options are more important.

  • farmerbrown

    There are plenty of good, trained engineers out there. The main issue is more of a problem with HR departments.

    When you require someone with 5-10 or more years of experience doing a very specific job you won’t find many. You’re essentially only able to hire someone doing the same job from a small pool of your competitors. How many people really want to do the same thing elsewhere for similar pay?

    Also, many companies use online forms then ask a ton of essentially yes/no or option 1/2/3 questions. If you get one wrong, sorry you’re not qualified. If you put 10 of those in your application, such a small fraction of the applicants will meet them you won’t be able to find anyone.

    They do not want to do any amount of training, so you’ve severely limited your pool of potentials, despite huge numbers being able to do the job very well with a week or two of training.

    Take a look at any career page. How many require 5+ years experience with a very long list of very specific skills? How many don’t? How many of those specific skills are truly required?

  • Vivek

    Agree fully! There is no need for producing more engineers and definitely NOT more mediocre engineers. Also, if there were truly a shortage of engineers, then we’d see engineer salaries rise to the point where they’d earn as much as doctors or lawyers. Obviously, this is just baloney. Sadly, many engineering institutions like the IEEE keep harping on how we need more engineers blah blah blah..

    I will also agree with what has been stated by some here. The U.S. needs to invest more, much more in primary and secondary school education and not cut the number of school days with each passing year. Motivated and well-educated school graduates will make for motivated and skilled college graduates, no matter what discipline they then choose.

    As a foreigner who had the privilege of doing graduate work and study at a U.S. university among several very talented people, almost all of whom came from Asia, I find it sad that education, especially for its own people is such a low priority for the U.S. The Chinese, the Indians and even the Iranians are going to stop coming one day, and you really are going to have a shortage then.

  • Vladimir Voytenko

    I live in Ukraine. I and my wife was a lecturer at major universities. But our sumarny income per month is $ 450. Prices of food and clothing in this country is higher than in the U.S.. We work at the Department of Microelectronics and Nanotechnology at the Department of micro and nano electronics. Before that we worked in the departments of physics and applied physics for 10 years. This year, our department, applicants have applied only half free (paid by the state seats) seats. What should I tell my students, if I do not want in their country. We are looking for work in other countries, but to no avail. In our country, a car salesman (my former student and a graduate student) receives a salary of $ 1,000 a month. This is more than twice as much of our income. Although for the seller does not need higher education. My search for work abroad have shown that most academics unclaimed people in the world, they live off the edge or on the edge of poverty.

  • Ramond Gonzalaz

    This is non sense more empirical data will improve all area’s of science .More inventions more high tech tech cheaper cost to manufacture new unique products to sell.

  • HawkFest

    More over, ironically Slate mentions Thomas Edison as an example for a scientist, for a field where Nikola Tesla should’ve been mentioned instead. They just don’t know what they’re talking about, like repeating falsities via the sole regards of business interests (over-rating Edison’s real impact over science in general, just because he did great business with other’s scientific works)… Actually, I think that nothing will change as long as USA regards money as some cultural drive, being for all aspects of its citizens lives the main leït motiv (everything being judged by its potential and immediate business success or by its wallet, like in a real plutocracy instead of democracy). Which is why Edison is falsely considered as a “Great scientist” while it’s Tesla who was the real “Great one” at that era. Do not ever forget that engineers work for businesses, unlike pure scientists : no business will ever invest into research and development for those examples you gave about technologies that would be needed…

  • HawkFest

    I agree : nothing in science is the “product” of a sole individual. It’s always a combination of past (or other’s current) experiences and observations, that in the end can lead one to this theorem, that theory, or this technology. As an example, Darwin was not the only one to work on the theory of Evolution. Even though he was “chosen” by his era (and politicians) to be THE sole one to be “right” in regards to the Theory of Evolution (we always silence all those who brought their own experimentations into the balance), actually nowadays we can see that Lamarck’s views were much closer to the current trend implying discoveries with genomes than was Darwin!…

    • HawkFest

      (no genes nor DNA are “transmitted” as some copy from parents to children : there are NO duplicates, all have an amount of some “creativity” – the still unknown Delta between parents and children that we can however measure -, mostly determined by such factors as the environment, the food, etc.)

  • HawkFest

    I don’t agree with your 1st paragraph : scientists and engineers are not “manufactured” in such a way that you can even dare to evoke some will to cut on the numbers, and assert about “tossable” mediocrity while doing this! This is like WISHING via some magic staff from Skyrim (more bugs and degradation than some promise of quality in the end). Your “method” is crippled with a ridiculously flawed reversed logic : having less scientists and better ones would be the phantasmagoria entertained by uneducated and thus close-minded accounting officer, believing that humans don’t interact nor exchange experiences so as to individually evolve, but act like Gods having deterministic levels of “Godliness”… Ridiculous.

    Let’s be realistic… Without so-called “mediocre” scientists/engineers, there wouldn’t exist any “genious”. Einstein wouldn’t have existed without his “mediocre” pars who helped him out in those fields where he wasn’t very good like mathematics, or those who exchanged philosophical views with him at this little café where he used to go in his youth… Actually he was considered as a mediocre school-boy, up to university! Which in itself is in total contradiction with this article : Einstein would have never existed under such a narrow view and “measurement” of the World…In the end, the more you’ll have scientists, the more potential you’ll get at seeing one or two “absorbing entities” who will be able to synthesize all this into this new theory, or that new resulting technological method. It’s quite simple tu understand and observe, maybe too simple for some…

    That scenario of day-dreaming about childishly “wishing” for less mediocre and better scientists/engineers, would actually solely suit the fact of saving money with a magic wand, period. Surely not for raising our scientific standards or levels of technological “efficiency”, it would actually result in the opposite!

    However I agree with you last paragraphs.

  • Seal Silver

    Thank you for addressing this.

  • Seal Silver

    I agree with this statement.

  • Aaron Woodburn

    This article is insulting. Corporate America has sweeping ownership rights on everything it pays for. There is no drive to invent anymore, no drive to be exceptional. If you don’t understand that then you are one of the lucky ones that hasn’t had the experience of an every-day boss sucking all of your credit away to glorify themselves. You want to know why you think that we have too many engineers? because we have too many business majors.

    • calidad01

      I’m not sure that the author would disagree with you, based on what he has said. I’m not sure that minting a greater number of STEM graduates would by itself cause businesspeople to respect their STEM employees any more than they do. Hence you and the author can readily be on the same team. No insult, no foul.

  • milkyway way

    We are on the same track here with different fields though. As long as engineering is concern, we are all on the same path.


    Bright Heritage

  • calidad01

    Considering how few scientists there were in Darwin’s time, relative to
    now, this makes his discoveries (or those of his–by today’s
    standards–small pool of co-discoverers) hard to account for. The actual number of scientists, in the modern sense, who had ever lived in human history when Einstein was born was probably not close to a billion.

    Here is what I take to be the real issue: Darwin was given a
    degree of leisure and intellectual freedom that the (by his standards)
    massive pool of scientists and engineers today do not, and never will,
    enjoy. If your job requires you to focus on a single part, or work only
    to the specific expectations of your company’s immediate needs, there
    is very little chance for a very radical innovation of the sort you want. Unfortunately, that is also true even in academia today, where “pure” research is supposed to be done. So it’s hard to say where, within the space in the current economy where scientists and engineers currently work, we’ve left room for the kinds of radical discoveries you are talking about, Julius. A trillion engineers constrained by very short-term corporate needs and goals WILL NOT, I would think, produce more innovation than a million engineers who are unconstrained. QED: I wouldn’t be too quick to disagree with the author, because the problem may not be one of numbers.

  • Tyler Jonco

    If you were a real scientists you would cite your sources. Yes, america needs more real scientists and engineers.

  • Taylor Penna

    You’re the biggest liar :P!

  • Irina Slesareva

    AJ agree with you.

  • Sparks

    I have a feeling this is pure bs

  • Jane

    First of all if there are MEdiocre scientists out there it’s because of the mediocre professors in the education industry. If we then have mediocre professors then we have a long train of scientists that have fallen off. Bottom line if we got through college and some mediocre professor passed us through or curved the class that is not our fault but there’s. We need to look at the educational industry and start getting refunds.

    • Bobby

      Mediocrity has nothing to do with it. You don’t need to be exceptional for these jobs. You don’t even need a PhD. That’s why they are moving them overseas…it’s cheaper!!!

  • Jane


  • snoglydox

    I cannot agree more; Microsoft was built on buying (or stealing in some cases) other peoples work, and Bill was not the programming genius of the group. I do however believe people can be “above average” if the conditions are right; if Bill Gates was from a family in the dump of Detroit, Microsoft would not be, and Bill would be in prison for shanking someone.

  • Kathy Amores

    Well, our country definitely needs more engineers and researchers. Sadly, people here do not usually pursue graduate studies. They usually favor working outright in industries after completion of their bachelor’s degree. Starting salaries in private industries for materials engineers here in our country is not that high but there is a possibility of growth unlike those who pursue graduate studies.

    I plan to pursue a master’s degree after I graduate. I might even plan to pursue a PhD after graduating my master’s. Yes, I admit, i will be living off government stipends. Maybe, I will be living like a bum or be eating canned goods every day. Maybe I will not be that rich and be a slight disappointment to my parents because I want to work in the academe.In our country, working in the academe equals low wages.

    Despite the cons listed above, in the end the decision is still up to me. The only thing important is that I am doing what I love. I have time to dedicate to research and touch lives.

    I think what me need most are passionate scientists and engineers. Passionate people who have the drive to learn more and research more despite the drawbacks. We can never have enough passionate scientists and engineers.

  • Bobby

    I have PhD in Engineering from an Ivy League University. It’s been 8 years since I graduated and my career is already shot. I’ve had four jobs already. The first was in marketing (they didn’t tell me it was a marketing job). The second was as a process engineer that didn’t require a PhD. The third was with a company that was set up to make it look like they did R&D so that they could reinvest their profits and not have to pay it out to an asbestos trust fund. The fourth company did expert witness testimony that involved blaming others for accidents. All through out this time I looked at the foreigners in research positions that I wanted and thought to myself “Why can’t I get one of those jobs?”.

    • Chris Gorman

      Unfortunate, but true.

  • other

    Not all of those with a scientific training will be able to find a job in the industry, the number of jobs being few, but the training that they receive is valued in other industries.

    I would also argue that the training is of benefit to the individual for its own sake. We should be able to learn these things for our own satisfaction. I hope that we are not motivated to produce better or more scientists entirely for the purpose of raising GDP.

  • Luke Burgess

    Sorry to read about this, two Masters Degrees must have done a number to your credit, or maybe you are a slow finisher like me. Both, can impact your job options. To those who think Bill is lying, why don’t you tell us about the wonderful jobs you got as a result of learning science and math, rather than being negative to Bill. The truth is jobs in science, math and computers are hard, and don’t pay much. That is why you have to find them and finish them quickly, so you can make enough to eat the next day. You really should only pursue such a carrier if you like it a lot, like me. Remember, no one gets a job for having a single set of abilities, they get a job because others know they have abilities. Making people know you have the abilities you have is the most important thing you can do no matter the field you are in.

  • AKO

    The financialization of the American economy:
    America’s ‘Brain Drain’: Best And Brightest College Grads Head For Wall Street

  • AKO

    The financialization of the American economy

    America’s ‘Brain Drain’: Best And Brightest College Grads Head For Wall Street

  • Mike

    Without Nikola Tesla and Alan Turing, do you think that you could have written this essay on anything other than a typewriter?

  • Deirdre –

    With a science major, you can not make a decision yourself. It is a group work. Math, science major options are with a corporate. It is quite different with an engineer though. They can work as a consultant. A senior engineer I mean. A fresh graduate will have the same problem though :(. By the way, I am agree with you. We need a scientist who can make some breakthrough. An idea that leads to a project to give other average scientists something to do.

  • Chris Gorman

    As an Engineer and Business Professional, I agree the biggest limiting factor is being pidgeon-holed by an HR description or Recruiter in an interview selection process. I know when I get through the door, I can execute any task and come up with solutions to challenges. It’s what I’m wired to do.
    So we play games to jazz up resumes with certifications and buzz words. At the end of the day our society needs to move away from the superficial flavor of the minute in the 24 hr news cycle and focus on the main issues.
    We are killing our planet. If we do not have more scientists and engineers focused on ideas , implementation and managing of those tasks to right the course, its all for naught.
    Hundreds of engineers and scientists with no direction and budget have no more value than a jail full of innocent men.

  • Chris Gorman

    We do need some Art history majors, other wise all that knowledge and creativity will be lost.
    As an Engineer while I am practical, I also see the beauty in the human expression of art. It does make us unique as a species.

  • Steve W PhD

    People, the issue isn’t if there are enough Scientists. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry. I have don’t post-doctorial research in Nanoparticles at UCSB (one of the best physics and materials in the nation), and worked at a National Laboratory on cutting edge Nanotechnology projects. So one could say that I was considered to be the best of the best. That happens a lot with good scientists, and engineers to a lesser extent. The major issue is that industry doesn’t let scientists do what scientists do in the US. Companies in the US have made business majors the kings of the hill…….and lets just say for the most part, the MBAs don’t know anything about being a scientist, especially a PhD level scientist that is trying to progress technology. Progressing technology even minutely take time and smart people. I consider myself smart, but also very stupid, I love being the person that solves issue, but I also hate being a dumbass and not taking the easy way out and getting an MBA….because I am an excellent scientist. I work at a company that is nice to work for, but they too have no idea what it takes and how smart people have to be to create new things, and that people that create new things have talents that are worth a lot. Scientists are not paid for their abilities, Why would anyone go to school for ohh 10 years on average (college and graduate school in a science) and have to do something “totally” original to get the PhD…..and then be paid as if they are an entry level Business major with an BA (usually the kid that drank till 2 each night, went to class at noon and repeated daily). We are stupid, a movie about science geeks one time said “Smart people are always needed”, this is not the case in the US. For the most part…….we need to pay Scientists better, and then we will get more scientists…….and progress technology faster. In reality the US produces excellent scientists…….but why become a scientist, you are not looked up to, you are not paid well, you usually are not understood because people think you are just a geek. Ohh by the way I was an all state hockey player in HS and played college hockey…….so till I started taking Chemistry classes, I was not a geek, now I am totally a geek. My suggestion to everyone DO NOT, and I mean DO NOT become a Scientist till there is a dyer need and We are paid what we should be paid……..Loving something is great, but being paid well…make you able to find hobbies that you can love.

  • Steve W PhD

    RJD… are a tool. Science is about discovery and if that discovery is individual or as a group doesn’t matter. ohh by the way, ideas sprout from groups, and most discovery is by individuals leading others, so individuals carrying the majority of the load and LEADING, not micro-managing. You mention stealing of ideas…….YOU are totally right science has the same issues that society in general has……..their are cheats and thieves in science also……in fact that is the whole process of graduate school in science…….the student does something original from being taught by a mentor….and the mentor gets most of the credit and the student if lucky gets a degree……it is a TRADE-OFF. You are totally right about technology doesn’t not progress without society and the efforts of “non-elite” (your term……and by the way Scientist are actually highly educated blue collar workers today, they are NOT revered or elite). For a society to thrive everyone needs to be valued for doing what they can for society…….

    I think you are close in your closing statement but not quite:

    “Ratcheting down pay, status and influence of the technical elite to server the financial elite is the game pulling down this country.”
    What is pulling down this country is NOT taking care of people that work hard…….and basically downgrading people working hard….even if it is not the most glamorous job……we need to make people proud that they contributed and treat them fairly and take care of them when they work hard……..

  • Paul

    I’m almost to that point myself. The only thing that is difficult for any engineer or scientist, medical doctor etc. These days is being able to find work that will make all that education look worth it after you are finished with school.

    Nearly everyday I wish that I never pursued a BS and MS in electrical engineering, and I know many in other fields including Medicine and Law that feel exactly the same way.

    The only people these days that earn more than they did 10 years ago are fast food workers, and others at the bottom. Reminds me of the horror stories about what people were paid back in the 1970’s in the USSR, Most people earned about the same regardless of education or skills. We are going that way here in the USA.

  • Paul

    It would be great if everyone understood this at an early age.

  • Paul

    I know by hindsight that I many of us that are engineers should never have pursued the degrees, as all it has done is make us debt slaves for life, and take away all thoughts of a better future for ourselves. I would have been far better off working to be a top auto mechanic, or other field that does not require lots of education and skills for little pay compared to 40 years ago. These days I have been having chronic chest infections, and I’m not sure if it would be in my best interest to go to a hospital if it develops into pneumonia. After all I know that there would be no way that I could pay the medical bills.


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